by Robert Duerr, Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group
At a Cooper Center hearing in Volcano July 12, the Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group, a broad based coalition of outdoor users, presented testimony for opening public access to the proposed expansion of the Puu Makaala NAR by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Forestry and Wildlife Division.
With the Puu Makaala addition, the state's Natural Area Reserve (NAR) System would grow by 6,600 acres located from the 4,600-to the 6,229-foot elevation 20 miles Southeast of Hilo. The area is part of the former 7,244-acre Kulani Correctional Facility. It's bounded by the existing Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve and private land belonging to Kamehameha Schools.
Hawaii Island's only prison, which opened in 1946, Kulani is slated to be turned over to the state Department of Defense for use as a Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy for at-risk teens. However there are rumblings that it could be used for military exercises.
The Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group is requesting access through the former Kulani site from “the gate off Stainback Highway to the 1942 Flow.” This access would be for vehicular access into and through the NAR on the existing paved road. It would allow access to the Powerline Road, the 1942 Lava Flow and the Eastern Fence Boundary Road. The access would allow entry to the existing Olaa Forest Reserve and greatly aid hunters in their conservation efforts to reduce the pig population in the area.
Dennis Vierra of Rock Island Riders an off road motorcycle group says: “it’s been blocked off for 64 years and we want to use our land.” The requested access is not through pristine forest but existing roadway through the prison site.
The MKRUG also has raised procedural objections including that the Puu Makaala meetings excluded the public from the land exchange discussion between the DOD and the state. Also, minutes of the first public meeting held were not published before the second meeting. Public process was bypassed.
Matt Hoeflinger, a community hunting member of MKRUG, said: “the public did not have time to comment, there was not a 5 day public notice. It’s obvious that the state is chasing federal dollars and we are the victims of it.”
MKRUG has has a suggestion that the marginal NARS lands in the Puu Makaala NARS be removed in exchange for the new lands coming into the system. The Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve, was created in 1981 and presently contains 12,106 acres.
Large areas on Hawaii Island land are currently in preservation status: Volcanoes National Park – 333,086 acres, Natural Area Reserves – 88,330 acres, Hakalau Wildlife Refuge – 33,000 plus 5,300 (Kona) = 38,300 acres, Puu Waa Waa Forest Bird Sanctuary – 3,806 acres.
Nearly one-fifth of Hawaii Island land is in limited, restricted or permitted public access. The total Federal and State lands are 463,522 acres. Hawaii Island Land Area is 4,037 square miles or 2,583,680 acres. The 463,522 acres under government control is 18 percent of total preservation lands.
An additional 12 percent of Hawaii Island Land is currently designated Threatened and Endangered Species Critical Habitat. Endangered plant lands total 208,063 acres. Palila includes 60,187 acres. Moths including Blackburn’s sphinx moth is 24,598 acres while endangered flies including picture-winged flies take 5,712 acres. Total critical habitat is 298,560 acres or 12 percent of available land.
Wayne Blyth, chair of MKRUG is concerned that once government lands become restricted access becomes difficult if not impossible. “Pull the reigns on this horse. Moving too fast beginning in May and expected to be a done deal in August. The public doesn’t have a seat at the table in deciding what will happen to 7700 acres.” he says.
Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group: http://maunakearug.com/blog/